Sierra Nevada, with team member , has once again defeated Beechcraft for the U.S. Air Force’s Light Air Support aircraft contract for the fledgling Afghan defense forces.
The winning team, offering a variant of Embraer’s A-29 Super Tucano, originally beat out Beechcraft’s AT-6 proposal in December 2011. But the Air Force was quickly forced to stop work on the contract after Beechcraft protested the source selection. Findings of government auditors prompted the Air Force to redo the competition, leading to the Feb. 27 announcement.
The $427,459,708 deal calls for delivery of 20 aircraft to Afghanistan beginning in the summer of 2014, a slight adjustment to earlier plans that called for an early 2014 delivery. With a production rate of two aircraft per month, the last is due in Afghanistan in April 2015. Prompt delivery is critical, as these aircraft are to be left behind for Afghan forces as the White House pulls soldiers out of the country in 2014. The aircraft will be used for flight training, close air support, intelligence collection and other security missions there.
The indefinite quantity, indefinite delivery contract is worth up to $950 million; the intention is for other allies to procure the aircraft as well. “Its like the modern version of the,” says Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Taco Gilbert, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance business development director for Sierra Nevada.
Sierra Nevada was favored to win in part because of its earlier victory. During the second competition, Beechcraft (formerly) emerged from bankruptcy and managed to do more testing on its aircraft. But the progress clearly did not convince the Air Force.
“We are disappointed that our proposal was not chosen,” says Nicole Alexander, a Beechcraft spokeswoman. “We will meet with the USAF for a full debrief of the award and determine our next steps forward at that time.” A protest is possible, though the Air Force took great pains to follow all procurement rules closely to avoid another delivery delay.
One congressional staffer, however, suggests that if the Brazilian manufacturer’s platform is chosen, lawmakers could run to the aid of Beechcraft, especially after its recent financial struggles, in a “Buy American” fervor.
Gilbert, however, says that assembly will take place in Jacksonville, Fla., and that 86% of the A-29’s components already come from the U.S. or “qualified” allied nations, including 100 suppliers in 20 states.
The company will begin fabricating the major structures on the existing line in Brazil immediately, Gilbert says, while in parallel the Jacksonville assembly line will be established.
Sierra Nevada is confident the Jacksonville facility can be quickly set up based on Embraer’s recent work standing up a business jet manufacturing center in Fort Lauderdale. “That gave us great confidence that this is not new territory,” Gilbert says.
The contract also calls for Sierra Nevada to train U.S. trainers who will then train the Afghan forces. Gilbert says the training is slated to take place at the municipal Clovis air field in New Mexico.